For Daniele Nardi and Tom Ballard lost forever on Nanga Parbat

The news broke a short time ago that the search has officially been called off on Nanga Parbat for Daniele Nardi and Tom Ballard, the two mountaineers who have not been heard from since Sunday 24 February.
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Tom Ballard and Daniele Nardi at Nanga Parbat in winter. There has been no news from Daniele Nardi and Tom Ballard since Sunday 24 February when the two were above 6000 meters on the Mummery Rib.
Daniele Nardi, Tom Ballard

13 days have passed. And with them, in the end, all reasonable hope. The last contact with Daniele Nardi and Tom Ballard dates back to Sunday, February 24th. "Daniele has just told us that they have reached circa 6300 meters, maybe even higher!" was what the Nardi team reported that day on Facebook, adding: "They ascended a different chimney than the one climbed with Elisabeth (Revol ed.) They went light, are now descending to C4. The weather isn’t good, with fog, sleet and gusts of wind." Since then, nothing more. Monday and Tuesday came and went without any news from the mountain. The satellite had fallen silent. No GPS signal was traced. On Wednesday 27 February on Nanga Parbat "the weather is good", but exploration of the possible descent routes proved fruitless. Everything was deserted, lay still. At this point the alarm bells started ringing. Many hoped that Daniele and Tom would suddenly reappear. On those immense mountains, and in particular on Nanga Parbat, this would not have been the first time... But then, day by day, the solution and the "miracle" slipped, inexorably, further away.

Nothing changed. Despite the commitment of the Italian ambassador, Stefano Pontecorvo, in Islamabad and the total cooperation of the Pakistani Air Force, united in overcoming the flight bans imposed by the recent crisis - this was all that was needed - between India and Pakistan. Despite the generosity of Ali Sadpara who along with two other Pakistani mountaineers immediately traveled overland to Base Camp on the Diamir side of Nanga Parbat. Despite Alex Txikon's efforts: as soon as the weather cleared up, he was transported from K2 to Nanga Parbat with his team and equipment including drones for aerial reconnaissance. Nothing changed, everything remained unsolved. But even if nothing changed, their commitment - like that of all those who work in search and rescue operations - was not useless. What matters, in fact, is that Ali Sadpara and Alex Txikon didn’t spare themselves. They never hesitated. It was what had to be done. And one shudders to think that they were Daniele’s climbing partners on Nanga Parbat back in winter 2016. And it’s shuddering to think of how much this mountain affects, both in "good" but also in "bad", our memories and the history of mountaineering. None of this matters now though, except the fact that Daniele and Tom will remain up there forever.

Daniele Nardi, a volatile mountaineer from Sezze (Italy), Ambassador for Human Rights, had climbed five 8000ers, of which the class double act K2 and Everest stand out, followed by Broad Peak (8,047m), Nanga Parbat (8,125m) and Shisha Pangma Middle (8027m). Daniele had also climbed Aconcagua, the highest mountain in South America, and added a new route between Bhagirathi III and IV in the Indian Garhwal Himalaya with Roberto Delle Monache. But there can be no doubt that the mountain that dominated his thoughts and his fantasies most was Nanga Parbat. Or rather, Nanga Parbat in winter. All one needs to say is that this year was his fifth attempt at climbing the giant in the coldest season. Those who have followed the events and stories of winter ascents of the 8000ers know that these are always undertakings that go well beyond the limits of human resistance. Due to the glacial temperatures. The impossible weather. The lashing winds at high altitude. And the total isolation, too.

Finding the strength and commitment to try again and again, year after year - as Daniele Nardi has done for 5 times in a row - knowing exactly what lay in store, is abnormal. It is certainly a sign of an incredible passion that perhaps goes beyond the "usual" parameters of mountaineering. Nanga Parbat in winter, but also the legendary Mummery Rib, was something that Nardi could not, evidently, do without. Perhaps now it had become the adventure he simply could not forsake. A sort of destiny almost that, during this last attempt, he faced together with Tom Ballard, the talented 30-year-old British mountaineer he had met in 2017 while taking part in TransLimes, an international expedition - which also included Marcello Sanguineti, Kate Ballard, Gian Luca Cavalli, Cuan Coetzee, Michele Focchi and Pier Luigi Martini - that explored the Kondus and Kaberi valleys in the Pakistani Karakoram.

Tom Ballard, in fact, the other climber who on Sunday 24 February went missing forever on the Mummery Rib. Silent. Extremely strong. Full of an inexhaustible energy. Tom was a mountaineer to whom it would be too easy to attribute the adjective "predestined". His mother, Alison Hargreaves, an immense mountaineer herself, had carried him in her womb when in 1988 she soled the North Face of the Eiger. Alison lost her life while descending from the summit of another legendary Pakistani giant, K2. That was back in 1995, when Tom was just 7 years old. Many things have changed since them, and most had forgotten that little boy and maybe even his mother, too. Until one day a young mountaineer appeared in Italy’s Val di Fassa, who enjoyed climbing the Dolomite rock faces with a totally free spirit, following nothing but his instinct.

That boy was Tom who, with his father, had found "home" at the campsite in Canazei. Soon enough many understood that he was special, in every sense. And soon, in 2015, he completed in just one winter season the six great North Faces of the Alps (Eiger, Matterhorn, Grandes Jorasses, Petit Dru, Pizzo Badile, Cima Grande di Lavaredo) all on his own. This project, called Starlight and Storm, introduced Tom to the entire mountaineering community. But it didn’t change him in the slightest. He kept following his heart. In his cave below Marmolada he experimented with impossible dry tooling lines, for which he became an indisputable reference point. And he continued climbing across the Alps alone or with friends. Putting up new routes, such as the two established with Marcin Tomaszewski: Dirty Harry on the NW Face Civetta in the Dolomites and Titanic on the North Face of the Eiger. Free and independent, just like himself.

Daniele and Tom have not returned from that Rib on Nanga Parbat. They were two men searching for something. They pursued a goal, an immense dream. And they were doing it together. The memory of them will remain. The immense efforts spent during those long days on the mountain will remain forever etched. We will recall their unshakable desire, that must be respected. And those smiles in the photos they sent us from Nanga Parbat.

by Vinicio Stefanello

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